Hawks hire Sund to replace Knight as general manager

Updated: May 28, 2008, 11:01 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Hawks hired longtime NBA executive Rick Sund as their new general manager after a frustrating three-week search to replace Billy Knight.

The Hawks first offered the job to Cleveland Cavaliers assistant general manager Chris Grant, who rejected the offer Monday. Atlanta earlier saw another prime candidate -- San Antonio Spurs assistant Dennis Lindsey -- withdraw his name from consideration.

But the Hawks moved quickly after Grant's rejection, going away from their list of original candidates to hammer out a deal with Sund, who has held a variety of front-office posts over the past three-plus decades in Milwaukee, Dallas, Detroit and Seattle.

NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com on Monday that Grant spent the weekend mulling Atlanta's proposal before ultimately deciding to stay in his role with the Cavaliers as a top aide to front-office chief Danny Ferry, choosing not to make the leap from one of the most stable franchises in the league to a team that just halted the league's longest playoff drought and is known for feuding factions in its crowded ownership group.

One source close to the process said Wednesday that the Hawks, after their inability to woo Grant and Lindsey's pullout, opted to move away from younger candidates and focus on more experienced options such as Sund.

Sources said contract negotiations between Grant and the Hawks began last week after Lindsey's withdrawal and intensified to the point that Atlanta had ceased speaking to other candidates, expecting Grant to accept.

Grant, who worked under Pete Babcock and Billy Knight with the Hawks before moving to Cleveland, was the only candidate before Sund who was actually offered the job, which came open May 6 when Knight abruptly resigned.

ESPN.com reported May 16 that Knight -- widely expected to be fired after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs -- actually had the opportunity to stay in Atlanta on a one-year contract. But Knight elected to step down effective July 1.

Other candidates Atlanta is known to have interviewed, in addition to Grant and Lindsey, are Washington Wizards vice president of basketball administration Tommy Sheppard, Boston Celtics assistant general manager Dave Wohl and Portland Trail Blazers personnel scout John Gabriel, former general manager of the Orlando Magic.

Following a six-year stint as Seattle's GM under Wally Walker, Sund left the SuperSonics after last season and was replaced by Sam Presti of the Spurs. He spent last year as a consultant for the Sonics.

Although he was criticized for drafting a succession of centers who have yet to develop -- Robert Swift, Johan Petro and Saer Sene -- Sund is better known in Seattle for the successful acquisition of Ray Allen for Gary Payton and for giving Nate McMillan his first head-coaching job. McMillan now coaches the Portland Trail Blazers.

He helped lead Seattle to two playoff appearances, including in the 2004-05 season, when the Sonics won the Northwest Division and advanced to the Western Conference semifinals.

Although Atlanta currently has no pick in the June 26 draft, either in the first or second round, Knight's successor is expected to make a firm ruling on the future of coach Mike Woodson, whose contract expires June 30. Knight reportedly tried to fire Woodson multiple times this season before the Hawks halted a playoff drought dating to 1999 and wound up extending the 66-win Celtics to a Game 7 in the first round.

The Hawks also have two prominent restricted free agents, shot-blocking forward Josh Smith and sixth man Josh Childress.

"I'm very excited and impressed with what the Hawks have currently developed, and I look forward to continuing that process," Sund said, adding he "was impressed with the effort they displayed" by winning three home playoff games against the Celtics.

Sund, working as co-chairman of the NBA predraft camp in Orlando, is expected to have his first day in Atlanta next Wednesday.

Most of the Hawks' coaching staff and management team joined Sund in Orlando for a meeting on Wednesday night.

Sund said Wednesday night he will not make any decisions regarding Woodson or the possibility of obtaining a draft pick before having a week to study the team.

"As to where we go from here, most of the basketball staff is here," Sund said. "I met with them tonight in an introductory fashion. I told them my first step here is to be a very good listener for the next week. I need to spend some time listening to ownership, listening to the management staff and then some of the players."

The Hawks addressed two needs last season by drafting center Al Horford, the only unanimous choice to the NBA's All-Rookie team, and trading for point guard Mike Bibby. Guard Joe Johnson is a two-time All-Star.

"We have a great nucleus of players, and while we have some work ahead of us, there's tremendous potential and continued growth with the guys on this roster," Sund said.

Sund was linked with front-office openings with the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers before taking the job with the Hawks.

"Rick has an enormous amount of experience, and an outstanding reputation around the league," Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. said.

"During this process, as we spoke with basketball people that we respect around the NBA, everyone had glowing things to say about Rick and his work. Our objective was to add an individual who would help us take the momentum we gained last season, and move to the next level. We feel we've done that, and we're thrilled to add someone of Rick's caliber to our franchise."

Information from ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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